First Aid Kit (photo: Ria Burman)
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass kicked off last Friday with an abundance of wonderful musicians coming together in Golden Gate Park to celebrate the excellence of live music and community. First hosted as Strictly Bluegrass 17 years ago with seven bands playing on one stage, the festival has broadened its musical horizons — hence the name change — and grown over the years. Yet it refreshingly remains true to its roots: Thanks to the late Warren Hellman, the festival is free and non-commercial. In a society focused on gain, it’s heartwarming to feel the give.
Friday was a day of variety. Drew Holcomb serenaded the crowd on the Swan Stage before Big Thief wooed the Rooster stage. Billy Bragg brought his political lyrical mastermind to the Banjo stage while Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express rockabilly-rolled the Swan Stage. Foy Vance got keyboard intimate at the Bandwagon Stage before Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 danced joyful at the Swan Stage. First Aid Kit rocked the Rooster Stage before headliner T Bone Burnett got weird and wonderful with some Palo Santo and his eerie lyrical, storytelling, drone-boom sounds upon the Banjo stage. Simultaneously, headliner Brandi Carlile rocked and wailed on the Swan Stage.